Apricots
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The debate about the origin of Apricots (Prunus armeniaca), that are also known as “Armenian Plums” in Latin, is an interesting one. Because of the Latin name and classification, Mediterranean scholars assert that the Apricot, a cousin of the Plum, originated in Armenia. Their thinking is that “The Romans must have known, right?” Other experts assert that the Apricot, like its two other similarly orange-colored friends, the Peach and the Nectarine, arrived in Armenia from China long before the Romans “discovered” the fruit was only labeled as Armenian. We may never know the definitive answer. We do know Apricots remain a very popular fruit in Central Asia to this day and most commonly served as dried fruit.

Apricots grow on trees. The Apricot fruit that we eat from the trees are called, "Drupes." The flesh of an apricot is usually fairly firm. Apricots flavor can range widely from tart to sweet. The taste depends on the ripeness or region grown. The outer skin of an apricot is velvety in texture and covered with very short, fine hairs. The inside “pit” is referred to commonly as a seed, kernel, or stone.

The seeds of Apricots look like almonds. They are contained inside the hard pit and are called Apricot Kernels. The kernels can be bitter or sweet. Bitter Apricot Kernels are riskier and you should research them before consuming them. Sweeter Kernels, are sometimes even substituted for almonds. In fact, the Italian liqueur called "Amaretto," is often made with almonds and a few Apricot Kernels.

Season

Apricots are typically best in late Spring-Summer. Apricots peak month in June.

Availability

Apricots are available year long.

Cultivation

Apricots need a colder climate to thrive because they need a certain number of “Chill Hours,” to bloom. Which means the tree has to spend some number of hours below 45˚ F (7.2˚ C). The chill hour requirement can vary from as low as 300 hours for some varieties or be as high as 700 chill hours for other varieties. Apricots can tolerate temperatures as low as -22˚ F (-30˚ C), if the tree is healthy and the climate is dry.

Once they bloom, Apricots need warm and dry growing conditions. They also tend to fare better in soil that is well drained. Apricots are very susceptible to diseases including root rot and a myriad of fungal diseases. Hence, good growing conditions are advised. Apricot Trees will start to produce fruit 3-4 years after its been planted.

Production

Turkey is the largest producer of Apricots at the present time. They produce over 700,000 tons of the fruit. Iran (487,000 tons), Pakistan (325,000 tons), Uzbekistan (265,000 tons) and Italy (205,000 tons) round out the top 5 producers. The United States is only number 14 on the list at 74,000 tons. Over 97% of the Apricots grown in the United States, come from California where Spanish missionaries had imported European varieties of Apricots.

Most of the world-wide fruit production is grown at an industrial scale and then dried. Apricots picked for drying do not have to be stunning in color. The stunning specimens need to be those destined to be sold in grocery stores, fruit stands or farmers’ markets. Orchards growing for the fresh produce aisle will hand pick Apricots, sometimes up to three times, during a single harvest season. Because the trees’ fruit may ripen in different stages, the growers want to ensure that their best product arrives at market.

Industrial growers, who will be drying their bounty and are not concerned with the show room appeal of their product, may use a tree-shaking harvester that literally shakes the fruit from the trees.

Varieties

There are at least 50 varieties of Apricots ranging in size from baseballs to marbles, in taste from bitter to sweet, and in color from purple to white. Most Apricots are Clingstone fruits, meaning that their flesh clings to the pit, unless otherwise noted. Some Apricots are Freestone fruits. The sweetest Apricots seem to be the largest with the palest flesh. The darker, smaller Apricots seem to be the most bitter.

Some of the most common Apricot varieties include Gold Kist Apricots, Early Golden Apricots, Castlebrite Apricots, Stark’s Sweetheart Apricot, Chinese Apricots, Montrose Apricots, Hunza Apricots, Harcot Apricots, Robada Apricots, Shekar Pareh Apricots, Newcastle Apricots, Harglow Apricots, Blenheim Apricots, Canadian White Blenheim Apricots, Tilton Apricots, Modesto Apricots, Autumn Royal Apricots, Moorpark Apricots, Katy Apricots, Patterson Apricots and Flaming Gold Apricots.

Each of these varieties have different characteristics. For example, Gold Kist Apricots, Early Golden Apricots and Castlebrite Apricots are at their peak early in the season (late Spring) and are all medium to large Apricots. Blenheim Apricots are the most commonly grown commercial variety of Apricot and their large fruit ripen in June. Tilton Apricots appear in late June and are typically used for canning. Late in the Summer, bring's Autumn Royal and Moorpark Apricots. Autumn Royals are delicious to munch straight out of your hand or can be used for canning. Moorpark can also be dwarf sized (aka very small) and regular sized.

Apricots have also been cross-bred with Plums to make new fruits. Plumcots (50% cross between a Plumand an Apricot), Pluots (75% Plum and 25% Apricot) and Apriums ( 25% Plum and 75% Apricot) are examples of the new hybrid fruit types (science calls them “interspecifics”).

Purchasing

First of all, there are a number of types of Apricot. Many of them look similar but each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some can be downright bitter while others are much sweeter. The sweetest Apricots tend to be the largest ones with the palest flesh. The most bitter tend to be the darker, smaller ones.

Second, you want to avoid Apricots with any hint of green on them. Green Apricots were picked too early and likely won’t develop their full flavor. Growers are tempted to pick them green so that they will last longer and not ripen during transport and distribution. That isn’t your problem.

Look for firm, smooth, plump orange, yellow or orange-yellow fruits without bruising or damage. Avoid “mushy” Apricots. The flesh should yield to gentle pressure when held in the hand. They should also smell bright and ripe, like Apricots. The red “blush” is not a sign of quality. It only means that the fruit was exposed to direct sunlight during its growth.

Third, Apricots are delicate and bruise easily. They generally don’t do well when transported over long distances (which really means outside of California since that is where the bulk of domestic Apricots are grown). If you can buy locally, and in season you will be ahead of the game. This will be more difficult than it sounds because Apricots are finicky about the climate (they need a certain amount of chill hours but can be hurt by frosts).

That being said, the modern farming and distribution system has improved significantly since the old days. Many newer breeds of Apricot travel decently, and are still flavorful. The knock against varieties like the Katy Apricot or the Patterson Apricot (which are both shipped out of California) is that they taste like they are sturdy. Castlebrite Apricots, Improved Flaming Gold and Tilton Apricots also ship out of California and might be alternatives. If you have the time and interest, get to know the varieties that do well in your area or which are imported by your retailers and make a note about which ones you prefer.

When purchasing dried Apricots, we suggest looking for sun-dried ones, which will have a much finer flavor than those dried using other techniques like dehydration. They will be a bit tougher on the palate.

Storage

If lucky enough to have a fruiting Apricot tree, the best place to store your Apricots is fresh and on the tree. On the stem, they will acquire the most complexity and flavor. Once tree-ripened though they should be carefully picked (they will deteriorate quickly) and then stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to prevent any further spoilage.

If you are working with store-bought Apricots, how you store them will depend on their ripeness. Less-ripe and un-ripe Apricots should be stored in a paper bag on the counter (away from heat and light) to allow them to ripen. Ripening should take 2-4 days but keep an eye on them daily to make sure that they don’t over-ripen and spoil.

Once they are ripe, gently place them in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. Fully ripe they will be prone to bruising if handled too roughly. In the refrigerator, the ripe little gems will last about 3-5 days so it is best to eat them or use them as fresh as possible. Let the Apricots temper before eating them and don’t wash the fruit until you are ready to use it.

If freezing your Apricots, the procedure is a little different because they will freeze better (no change of imparted bitterness) with the pit removed. To freeze, slice the Apricots in half along the natural seam and remove the pit.

To freeze Apricots properly there are a few optional steps. Some varieties will get a tough skin if frozen without first Blanching them for about a minute. If you wish to fix the color and/or avoid discoloration, it is best to dip the fruit in an Ascorbic Acid Solution before bagging them for the freezer. In both cases, and you can do both, dry the Apricots before placing them in airtight baggies for storage in the freezer. Apricots can also be packed in sugar or syrup for freezing. They should be good in the freezer for up to 8-12 months.

We have had dried Apricots last months at room temperature in a pantry but dried Apricots are best stored in the refrigerator because they can harden and darken if stored at room temperatures above 75˚ F (24˚ C). If your dried Apricots become too brittle they can be softened by soaking them in liquid or by Steaming.

Canned Apricots should be stored in the pantry.

From one of the most popular cocktails in the world (The Amaretto Sour) to a handcrafted jam on your morning toast, apricots are a versatile fruit that are beloved by many. These tiny fruits pack a flavorful and healthy punch and can be used fresh or dried in a sweet or savory dish.

Culinary Uses

Apricots are noteworthy for their delicate flavor, velvety smooth surface and sweet aroma. They are also very versatile and can be enjoyed fresh, dried or used in savory or sweet dishes. They pair very well with Chicken and Pork.

Because they're so small and delicate, it's not advisable (or necessary) to peel them for use. To eat a fresh apricot, just cut along the Apricot’s seam and separate the fruit halves with your fingers. Once the halves have been separated, the seed should be easily removed.

Apricots can be used in Tarts, Cobblers, Crisps, Jams, Chutneys, and Compotes. They can also be Grilled, Sautéed, Broiled, or Baked. Because perfectly ripe, flavorful, fresh apricots are hard to find all throughout the year, it is an acceptable accommodation to substitute canned Apricots for fresh when necessary. In fact, the canned Apricots might even have good flavor because most canned Apricots are left to ripen longer on the tree. Apricots can be used in many recipes that call for Nectarines or Peaches. The reverse is also true and Nectarines and Peaches can fill in for Apricots.

Dried Apricots are used frequently in Mediterranean recipes from Tagines to Risotto. Of course they can be used in Cakes, Cookies, Pies and just about as many sweet confections as you can dream up. The Egyptians make a drink called “amar-al-din” with Apricots and you may remember your mother basting your Easter Ham, with a can of Apricot Juice. There’s a reason it’s often called the “Nectar of the Gods.”

Relevant Lessons

Portion Size

Allow 1/2-1 oz of an Apricot, per person.

Pairings

Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pistachios, Pine Nuts, Walnuts, Allspice, Anise, Cardamom, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Coriander, Mint, Nutmeg, Pepper, Salt, Sugar, Rosemary, Saffron, Vanilla, Apples, Bananas, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cherries, Coconut, Cranberries, Lemons, Nectarines, Peaches, Pineapple, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries, Garlic, Ginger, Onions, Poultry, Chicken, Game, Duck, Lamb, Pork, Butter, Cheese, Cream, Sour Cream, Yogurt, Honey, Coffee, Salads, Rum, Amaretto, Brandy, Wine, Oats, Vinegar

Substitutes
Nectarines, Peaches, Pluots
Nutritional Value

Nutritional Value USDA
APRICOTS,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 48
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 1mg
5%
Potassium 259mg
3%
Total Carbohydrate 11g
8%
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 9g
Protein 1g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Apricots are a low calorie and very healthy snack option. Fresh Apricots pack a high dose of Vitamin C, Fiber, Iron and potassium. Something fairly unique about Apricots is they do not lose their nutrients, when you cook them. Whether raw or in a cake, you’re getting some pretty high doses of vitamins and minerals. Dried Apricots also don’t lose their nutritional value and many athletes, mountain climbers or folks who just love trail mix find themselves snacking on the dried variety on a regular basis.

Also, Apricots contain antioxidants that help prevent heart disease, reduce "Bad Cholesterol" levels and protect against cancer.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes